I recently had the honor to guest blog on Tammy Kennington's website about focusing on building God's kingdom. I know her through a Facebook Group of Christian writers and have always enjoyed her stories. Here is the first paragraph with a link to her site for the rest of the blog. Enjoy!
A seed of ambition recently tried to sprout into a weed that would choke out my witness. I helped my colleague organize my office’s strategic planning conference. During the conference, the big boss kept acknowledging two other coworkers for their efforts. I wasn’t mentioned at all. It stung to not be recognized.
I think the sun shines brighter in Florida than elsewhere. My left arm burns every time I drive. Something is just more intense about the sun here. I am thankful for the sun’s light to see by and how it warms the earth to bring forth fruit.
God’s love is compared to the sun. Number 6:25 says, “The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you” (NKJV). His blessings shine in our lives like sunshine as grace pours forth from His throne.
We as believers are also compared to the sun. Proverbs 4:18 says, “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (NKJV). As we grow in Christ, our light becomes brighter until we join our Heavenly Father for eternity. However, we don’t have our own light. Instead, we reflect the light that God shines on us, like the moon reflects the light of the sun.
It encourages me to remember that the moon has phases. It doesn’t achieve its complete brightness in one day. So too, sanctification is a process. The closer we get to the Son, the more our lives reflect His light to lost and dying people. Every day we grow in glory as the Spirit stirs us towards love and good works.
Philippians 2:15 says, “That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (NKJV). Our world contains obstinate people set on living life their own way. They live in constant night and don’t even know it. When we walk with the Lord, the light we scatter cuts through the darkness and draws people like moths to a candle. May we sit in the Son and draw near to the Lord. Then we can reflect His love and woo the world with His light.
A guy friend of mine once owned a really nice sports car. He parked it at the end of the row to keep it away from other cars. Every weekend, he washed and waxed that vehicle until his face shone in the hood. He was so proud. The first time he walked out to find a ding, he was beside himself. I explained to him that the main thing was that he was safe. No one was hurt. Inanimate objects are not as important as animate objects. It took a while, but he eventually calmed down.
Upon reflection, I realized that the reason he was so distraught was because he treasured his fast car. He had saved money to buy that vehicle, and it made him feel important. He put all that time and effort into something temporary. One day it would rust to pieces and cease to run.
Jesus admonishes us to place our treasures in heaven where they will last forever.
Matthew 6:19-21 says, ““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NKJV).
As a society, people value quality items. They think more of someone with a luxury vehicle than an old lemon. Yet, maybe the clunker was once a great car, but the owner decided it was more important to invest money into his local church instead of upgrading his vehicle every few years.
The time and money we give into the kingdom of God are eternal investments. No inflation can eat up the buying power of those deposits and no stock market crash that can foil our returns. You treasure in heaven cannot be stolen by thieves in the night. I’ve heard it said, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” No matter what material things you accumulate during your life on earth, they will not pass with you into eternity.
Remember the parable about the rich fool who had such a large crop that he tore down his barns and built new ones to hold his bounty? He prided himself on his wealth, and didn’t glorify the Lord. God struck him dead. The story ends with Luke 12:12, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (NKJV). Yikes! I have no desire for God to smite me because I hoard the riches that He has entrusted me to steward.
So, how do we spend our treasure in ways that build our heavenly homes? We invest our lives into loving God and loving others. We can tithe at our local church and give to charities that advance the kingdom of God. Also, because valuable things extend beyond just our money, we can use our time and talents too. Maybe you can teach children in the nursery or welcome people as they enter the sanctuary. Perhaps the Lord has blessed you with a great singing voice and you can encourage a congregation through song.
For loving others, you can share your resources with friends and family when they fall in times of need. With people coming out of the pandemic and gas prices sky-high, if you even have a dime more than you need, why not ask God who you can gift it to? Even if you have no extra dollars lying around, maybe you could babysit for a neighbor or knit a hat for someone with cancer. The options for eternal investments abound.
Recently, my sister-in-law got in an accident and totaled the car that I had sold her a year and a half ago. I had owned the vehicle over a decade and loved it, even more than my current vehicle. Thank God, no one was hurt in that collision. I recalled the conversation I’d had with my guy friend years ago and had more peace about it than I would have had otherwise. The car wasn’t a human. The people were safe. That is what mattered.
My heart is with my brother and sister-in-law for their well being. Because my investment was in my sister-in-law, not the car, God turned the accident into a blessing in disguise. They managed to find a car for a less than what the insurance had paid and used the remainder to pay some separate bills.
What does your heart treasure? Do you seek to love people made in the image of God or are you focused on getting the latest and greatest gadget? Ask God to help you invest in things that last for eternity. His interest rate will yield a future harvest that lasts forever and will never rust no matter how many dings you receive in life.
Some things are worth quitting. Not just the things you usually think about quitting like smoking, drinking, or drugs. Normal things are worth quitting too sometimes. Recently, I was reading a series that was consuming my life. The books ran almost 1000 pages each, and I only had three weeks to borrow them on my Kindle from the library. I lost sleep, stayed away from friends, and didn’t call my family all to finish these books. After book six, I considered if finishing the books was worth it. It wasn’t.
The books weren’t bad, but the time suck they created in my life pulling me from more important things indicated they weren’t the best use of my time. I spent an hour on Wikipedia reading how the series ended and felt satisfied. To listen to the audio version of all the books would take almost 20 days to hear – and that is without eating and sleeping! Not reading these books let me literally regaining weeks of my life. I don’t like quitting things, but it’s healthy to let go of things that aren’t worthwhile.
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (NKJV). I only get one life. I want to redeem the time from idle works and walk wisely in the remainder of my life. Now I can call my brother and read Bible verses with him in the evenings and chat with my mom without being anxious that I’ll lose sleep to finish a book. I can invest my time in people that matter for eternity. Those conversations are worth infinitely more than checking a box of completing a series.
How about you? Do you have anything that God is calling you to quit? Are you missing out on good things using your time on things that don’t last? Maybe you are spending too much time on social media and missing out on fellowship with people in person. Just a word of caution. I am not admonishing anyone to quit their marriage or their job tomorrow. I am suggesting that if you do things that don’t bring life, you may need to stop. I pray that God will help you let go of anything you need to quit so you can embrace the abundant life He has for you.
Recently, I had a season where the squeeze was tight on my family and friends. It seemed everything that could go wrong did – from hospitalizations to car accidents to COVID, the weight threatened to crush me. I fought the darkness with the weapon of worship.
Despite the press, I went to church on Sunday. I’ve learned that thinking I can gain time by skipping church is always a loss in the long run. That week, they sang “Firm Foundation (He Won’t)” by Cody Carnes. My mouth formed words that no matter how hard it got, God would never fail me ever. Tears of relief streamed down my face. God can’t fail. He always prevails. Even in the storms, the Lord helps me stay steady. The truth seeped into my soul and became my anthem throughout the week.
It makes sense that spiritual songs usher the Spirit into our minds and reinforce our hearts. Ephesians 5:18-20 says, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV).
While the world may say to drink to drown your sorrows, the Bible says to pull out your hymnal. The time-tested words contain deep doctrine so you can tap into spiritual strength to fortify you soul. Sometimes, people knock the old hymns as antiquated, but if they have lasted hundreds of years, that says something. I love both contemporary praise music and the classics. The hymn “Have Faith in God,” reminds me of God's sovereignty that supersedes my circumstances. I can trust God when I don’t see answers to prayer immediately, because He will answer yet.
We also gain strength from singing the name of Jesus. Isaiah 12:2 says, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’” (NKJV) It may seem silly to think of a person as a song, but think of the love songs on the radio. Many of them name the person the singer extols. So, why not sing Jesus? I love the old hymn “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know” also known as “He Keeps Me Singing.” He does! When I keep singing the name of Jesus over and over, it brings His power into the room. When I vocalize His goodness and grace, and it puts my focus back on the character of God instead of my circumstances.
Now, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Fortunately, all God desires is for me to make a joyful noise. I pray that you find your songs of strength. May God keep you singing as you go to strengthen you heart more and more with each psalm of hope that you sing.
Once a friend of mine was dating a guy who was not a believer. I was in my early 20s and had some Pharisaical tendencies. I told her in no uncertain terms that having a relationship with him defied biblical truths, and she needed to dump him. You can only imagine how that went. Not well. My harsh words lost me credibility with my friend. She continued to date him anyway. I shook my head and wondered how she could live in such disobedience.
Later, God convicted me of my approach. In my Bible reading, I came across Ephesians 4:15a, “speaking the truth in love.” Hmm. I had nailed speaking the truth part, but was shaky on sharing it in love. Fire and brimstone would’ve been better descriptions of how I showered my judgment on her. I tried to justify it to myself by explaining that I have the spiritual gift of exhortation. It is my job to help people do the right thing. However, my words needed to be clothed in humility instead of pride.
A year later, a different friend starting dating a non-Christian man. This time, I was determined to try a gentler approach. I pulled up the specific Bible verses and wrote them down. When we met, I tried to pour out my concerns to her in kindness instead of ire. I told her I cared about her as a friend, but couldn’t support her decision to be with this person, and it grieved me. She still chose to be with him, but I didn’t bear any guilt that I drove her away from truth like I had with the last friend. While I can speak truth to people in love, I can’t make them choose the correct decision.
Do you ever struggle to say the right thing the right way? Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (NKJV). This verse reminds me of the test my mom told me to give before I let any words cross my lips. I was supposed to ask three questions:
1. Is it true? – If my words are corrupt because they are born from anger or pride, they will not be truth and will not bless the hearer. Lies are not becoming of a daughter of the King.
2. Is it necessary? – Sometimes, even things that are true aren’t necessary to say because they won’t build up the person in the moment. I can let someone know that they have food between they teeth. That is true and necessary so that they can brush their teeth and feel good.
3. Is it kind? – The point is to impart grace to everyone you interact with. Imagine if your friend bought a new dress that she loves, but you don’t. Telling her you think she looks like a purple hippo isn’t necessary or kind. If she likes the outfit, let her enjoy it.
My second approach in telling truth to my friend definitely fulfills the requirements of all three questions much better than the first approach. I have to trust God will the results of what He asks me to share, but recognize that how I talk makes a difference. I pray that you will speak true, necessary, and kind words that are wrapped in love to those around you this week.
Once I had a friend who was 6’6”. We nicknamed him Talls. He was head and shoulders taller than all my other friends. One year for his birthday I wrote him a card with Ephesians 3:17-19, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (NKJV)*. Then I wrote about how God’s love encompasses all directions.
The Width of God’s Love
Genesis 13:16-17 says, “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” God told Abraham to measure the land that God had given him. The Lord kept His word to grant the entire area that He promised to give the children of Israel. The places we go and the ground we cover in our lifetimes has already been trod by the Lord. He is with us and goes before us. There is nowhere His love cannot reach us or cover us. He secures our inheritance for us with a love so wide it knows no end as it stretches from the east to the west.
The Length of God’s Love
God’s love extends to every day of our lives. 1 Kings 3:14 says, “So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” When we obey His law and live uprightly before God, He lengthens our lifespans. Honestly, sometimes with all the heartache the world holds, the thought of a long life can seem intimidating, but we exist to glorify God both on earth and for eternity.
As we strive to honor the Lord in our actions, each moment we breathe is a chance to praise God and make His glory known to a lost and dying world. There are many people that no one can reach but you. God designed your years to step into good works He foreordains, which includes proclaiming the gospel. When we get to heaven, we be unable to share the good news. Paul himself wrestled, torn between staying on earth and going to heaven to be with the Lord. However, he knew that he would have more fruit for his labor if he remained, and therefore chose to evangelize despite his prison chains (Philippians 1:19-26) Obedience that lengthens our days results in God’s presence every moment and His greater glory as we cling to Him.
The Heights of God’s Love
When I think of the heights of God’s love, I think of praising Him for His greatness. Psalm 148:1 says, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!” We soar above the heaven with joy for Who He is and all the wonderful things He has done. Every time that things are going great, God inhabits the heights with us there.
The Depths of God’s Love
Not only does God rejoice in our heights, God also sits beside us in the depths of despair. We cry out to God for salvation during times of trial. Psalm 130:1 says, “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord.” God does not turn a deaf ear to our cries or ignore our pain. While we really want to get out of the situation, we often don’t take time to enjoy God’s presence in the pit. I often don’t understand God’s timing or ways, but the times I’ve felt His work most intimately in my life were when my life seemed in shambles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).
As we learn the empathy of the Father in the depths of heartache, we also discover that our joy shall be restored. Psalm 71:20 says, “You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, Shall revive me again, And bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” God won’t leave us in the misery. The Lord pulls us out of the depths and places us on firm ground where we can move forward in confidence (Psalm 40:2).
I pray that on your birthday, and every day of your life, will you understand the vast love that God has for you that nothing in creation can separate you from (Romans 8:38-39). There is no valley to wide, no road too long, no mountain too high, and no ocean too deep where God’s love will not enfold your every move. May you to bask in exceeding lovingkindness of the Lord.
I decided to read the Bible in another language this year. I considered it a good learning tool while also trying to grow spiritually. Yet, the longer I continued the practice, the dryer I grew.
Leviticus is hard enough to grasp in English, but in another language, it is mind numbing. I took at least twice as long as usual to read my Bible, yet I got less out of it. The day I read about the priests examining the raw flesh of people’s sores, which was literally “living meat” in the other language, I realized I wasn't learning practical vocabulary.
My sister called me out and told me to read the Bible in English. She said if I was trying to boast that I could read the Bible in another language, I wasn’t winning any spiritual rewards. She was right. I switched to English the next day, and rejoiced at how much spiritual meat was in Leviticus when I understood the words.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (NKJV). My work of reading the Bible in another language wasn’t going to save me.
For that matter, neither were any of the things I’ve tried to do for God in the past like have perfect attendance at church, serve in the nursery and the welcoming committee, and lead Bible study all at the same time. While those things may look good to other people, God looks at my heart. My boasting doesn’t impress God when I boast in myself.
We should only boast in the Lord. He gave us the gift of salvation through the blood of His Son Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Our salvation cannot equal grace plus anything else. For those with legalistic tendencies like myself, that truth can seem maddening.
Yet, God’s grace sets us free. We are not saved by our good works, but released from sin to commit good works unto God’s glory.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV). God is not against good works. Instead, He created acts of kindness for us to perform before the foundation of the world. The difference is not the act itself, but the heart motivation behind what we do. Are we trying to make ourselves look good or to glorify God for all He has done?
God is not impressed by my self-promotion. My reading the Bible in another language was not one of those things preordained for me to complete, but something I wanted to do to feel special. May we all check our hearts to ensure we are working for God’s renown and not our own. Because in the end, only His glory lasts forever.
What we call ourselves is who we become. Little children labeled stupid start to think they are dumb, making it difficult for them to excel. While not everyone has every talent, when we speak the truth of who we are in Christ, we grow into that identity over time and space. Second Corinthians 3:18 puts it this way, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (NKJV). The more we gaze upon the Lord, the more we reflect His image and look like Him to those around us.
When we see ourselves a certain way, we strive to become that. Athletes conduct visualization exercises as part of their training to excel in sports. When they see the skill performed in their mind’s eye, it improves performance on the field. If we speak truth to ourselves about who we are, we grow into that. Likewise, if we perceive ourselves as lacking, those thoughts can choke out our abilities. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. We must remind ourselves of who we are in Christ and fulfill our divine destinies.
I recently read a children’s book where the author gave grand titles to the children after they completed certain escapades. Instead of being named by their infirmities, like Linda the Lame, she became Linda the Brave who rushed into the thick of trouble. Instead of Hank the Hungry, he was Hank the Quick who could outrun the enemy. John the Jealous became John the Strong. The naming convention seemed a little odd to me until I thought about the Russian tsars. They had people like Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. Which one would you rather be called?
Names matter. The names other people attach to us, and what we call ourselves. For a couple of years, I called my younger sister “Stinky” because her name starts with the letter “S.” Once I learned more about how the power of life and death is in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), I quit calling her Stinky. It wasn’t true. My sister always smells good. I didn’t want to make her feel yucky by the monikers I placed on her. Now, I just stick with her actual name, which means “princess.” A much more delightful designation, I think we’d all agree.
Who do you think you are? I’ve been studying Ephesians, which contains rich jewels of who we are in Christ. In the first fourteen verses alone, we find that in Him we are:
Wow! The wonders of who God has made us in Christ blows my mind. What if instead of feeling like Joanna the Unwanted, I remind myself that I am Joanna – the Accepted in the Beloved. To go beyond thinking about this just once, what every morning I recited the list above about my identity in Christ. I imagine that by the end of a few months I would stand a little taller and walk out my life in Christ more richly.
We are who we think we are. If we aren’t intentional to meditate on our identity in Christ, we can lapse into who the world says we are. Christ has anchored our eternities in who He says we are. I choose to be Joanna the Saint, Joanna the Holy, Joanna the Redeemed, Joanna the Blameless. Who will you choose to be? I pray you become who you are in Christ by owning the reality of your identity in Him. May we all grow to be more like Jesus every day to the praise of His glory.
My pastor has given a sermon illustration about the importance of giving things in all circumstances several times. The story goes like this:
Fred arrived at church complaining because he had a flat tire. Fred grumbled to George, wondering if God cared about him since his tire blew out on the way to church. Didn’t God know he wanted to worship? Now his attitude was shot. George replied that Fred had nothing to be upset about, instead, he should give thanks. Give thanks? For what? He had to call a tow truck and pay for a taxi to get to church. He didn’t even know how he was getting home. George said Fred should be thankful he had a car to get a flat tire. Some people have to take the bus. Furthermore, Fred should be thankful for the money to buy a car to get a flat tire. He should even thank God for a job that provided him the money to buy the car to get a flat tire. George was stumped. He hadn’t thought about it that way. Maybe he had a lot to thank God for after all.
God has worked in my life a lot in the past few years to grow my gratitude muscles. I have started to notice when God is working in my life, big or small. After I nearly ran out of toilet paper during the start of the pandemic, I thank God almost every day for toilet tissue. I’m also grateful for good health in the last two years. The Lord has blessed me through thick and thin.
First Thessalonians 5:16-8 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (NKJV). When bad things happen, we are to rejoice, not moan. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I groan before giving thanks. I recently had the opportunity to put into practice the very sermon illustration my pastor shared.
On Christmas Eve, my flight home was cancelled. So, I thanked God for my car to drive the twelve- hour trek. My sister and I set out in the late afternoon because she had to work on Christmas Eve. About an hour south of my house, my low-pressure light lit on my dash. I thought maybe the cold had lowered the air in my tires, and I would fill them at the next exit. Then my steering started getting dicey. I pulled over on the side of the road. You guessed it! I had a flat tire. While I struggled to call USAA for help, my sister watched YouTube videos and tried to change the tire. I couldn’t get a human to answer, and wound up in tears when I encountered problems setting up an online account that wouldn’t let me enter my actual location. Meanwhile, the sun was setting. The day was getting darker by the minute.
As I sat there, I watched cars whiz by on the highway. I thought, maybe I should pray for someone who knows how to change tires that isn’t sketchy to stop and help us. Within five minutes, the state Department of Transportation guy pulled up behind us. Praise God! He changed my tire and jumped my car’s battery, dead from overusing the hazard lights.
Driving back to my house instead of home to family for Christmas, my sister was really discouraged about missing time opening presents with our family and eating together. I wasn’t too thrilled either. Then I remembered the story my pastor told. Because I’d heard it so many times, I knew what to do. I started thanking God for how He took care of us.
“Thank You God that we didn’t take a plane. You know that maybe we would’ve gotten COVID or something worse. Thank you for protecting us from the unknown. Thank You God that the flat tire was on the passenger side, so we could be away from the road while changing it. Thank You for sending the Department of Transportation person to help. Thank You God that I have a car to get a flat tire. Thank You God that I have money to buy a car to get a flat tire. Thank You God that I have a job to have money to buy a car to get a flat tire.”
The more I listed the things I was thankful for, the longer the list became. It changed my attitude and helped me drive 45 miles an hour on the highway with people flying at 70 all around me, speeding on my bumper. God held me together through the power of thankfulness. My sister complained because she thought I was doing better. I wasn’t that great, but speaking all the ways God had cared for us in the midst of frustrating times grounded my heart and mind. She drove her car the next day, and my mom held Christmas dinner and gift opening until we arrived. We still had a joyous Christmas together. I even surprised my mom by walking up behind her in the kitchen while she was talking to me on the phone.
God gave me a long list of things to be thankful for that Christmas, that I wouldn’t have appreciated as much without the hardship. Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV). We are to give thank always for all things, even things that don’t look good on the outset.
I don’t know what type of season you are in now. Maybe you have had more difficulties that just a flat tire and being thankful seems counterintuitive. Let me tell you from experience, a little thankfulness goes a long way in building endurance through hard times. I encourage you to find things you are thankful for even in your darkest hour. The good is there if you look hard enough. If you can’t see it, ask God for His vision. Let God illustrate His love for you no matter your circumstances, even if you have a flat tire.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.